4 Reasons Why Your Mattress Could be Toxic

http://theholisticmama.com/?p=6628Our world is full of toxins today – they are everywhere. Many parents are aware of this now and are trying to at least minimize the toxins inside their homes. Switching to green cleaning products, using zero VOC’s paints, and changing from plastic food storage containers to glass are some of the ways that many of us parents have started to eliminate toxins in our homes. However, one household item in particular that has probably been overlooked is your mattress.

There are a number of reasons why conventional mattresses are very toxic and could even be causing health problems. Here are the top 4 reasons:

#1 – Flame Retardants

As of July 1, 2007, all U.S. mattresses are required to be flame retardant. As a result, manufacturers are coating them with highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), Boric acid, a toxic respiratory irritant used to kill roaches, antimony, a metal that may be more toxic than mercury and formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. What is even worse is that this does NOT have to be disclosed in any way.

PBDEs are certainly not something we want emitting from a mattress on which we spend 1/3 of our lifetime. They have already been outlawed in Canada and Europe. This toxin builds up in your body over time, and what you absorb or inhale does not go away. This is very concerning because of the health problems PBDE is associated with  such as brain and reproductive damage, decreased sperm quality, thyroid problems and even cancer at high levels.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has studied chemically treated mattresses and found that the chemicals do, in fact, leech from the mattress. A person sleeping on a chemically treated mattress will absorb .8 mg of antimony every night, an amount that is 27 times more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is safe. 

#2 – Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is often part of the flame retardants in mattresses and it is also used in the adhesives that hold together different pieces of the mattresses. This is a potentially toxic substance and has been linked to asthma, allergies, and lung, nose, and throat cancers.

#3 –  Pesticides

Non-organic cotton is grown with pesticides. In fact, cotton uses more insecticide than any other single crop. These pesticides are causing illness too. In a 2002 study of pesticide illnesses in California, cotton ranked third among California crops for total number of worker illnesses caused by pesticides. If these chemicals are causing worker illness we probably don’t want to be breathing in its emissions all night long.

#4 – Polyurethane

Since the 1960s, most mattresses have been made of polyurethane foam. Polyurethane is a petroleum-based material that emits volatile organic compounds that can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation. This is the material that most conventional memory foam mattresses are primarily made from and it is also part of the padding in coil mattresses.

How can we avoid these toxins?

This is overwhelming, I know. I get sick to my stomach every time I look at this information. These things apply to most mattresses that are sold today but there are some alternatives.

Natural Latex Mattress

Natural Latex is a safe alternative to the popular polyurethane memory foam mattresses. 100% Natural latex begins as a liquid, extracted by ‘tapping’ live rubber trees that grow in tropical climates around the world. This process is just like tapping a Maple tree for the natural sap; trees are not harmed and they provide a sustainable resource for natural latex. The liquid is then washed carefully and whipped into a latex foam material and formed into the layers of a natural latex mattress. The best quality natural latex mattresses are then wrapped in organic cotton and wool. The wool layer gives the fire retardant protection that is needed to meet the standards for fire protection because wool is naturally fire retardant.

I have done a lot of research for natural latex mattress options. Many of the options available are very expensive or don’t have all of the quality standards that I am looking for in a mattress. Plushbeds.com has a high-quality natural latex mattress called the Botanical Bliss Collection which is made of 100% natural latex, organic cotton, and Joma New Zealand wool. I personally own a set of their natural latex pillows which I absolutely love (read my review here).

Right now Plush Beds is having a huge Labor Day Sale so if you have been thinking about upgrading to a non-toxic natural latex mattress this would be a great time to take them up on this offer. The sale includes…

  • $1,200 off all latex mattresses
  • Free Egyptian Sheet set
  • 2 Free 100% natural talalay latex pillows
  • Free Shipping
  • Free Returns (100 night trial period)

Organic Cotton & Wool Coil Mattress

Some people really prefer the traditional coil mattresses over latex. A few safe and chemical free options do exist. If you are shopping for this type of mattress look for one that is made of organic cotton and/or wool. Some non-toxic coil mattresses are made of organic cotton and have a wool wrapping (for its natural fire retardant properties) and some of them are 100% wool.  When researching options for coil mattresses be sure to ask if there are any other chemicals in the mattress such as any possible adhesives that hold the parts together.

These type of mattresses are not easy to find and often (but not always) require a prescription from a Doctor or a Chiropractor. There are a number of online retailers that offer organic coil mattresses. I personally own an organic cotton and wool crib mattress for my children that I purchased online from EcoChoices.

Being aware of these toxins is not easy because once you know about this it’s impossible to go back. Most likely you’ll never want to buy a conventional mattress again. When this information first came across my computer screen I wanted to immediately throw out every mattress in my house and replace them – but I was not financially able to do so. The important thing is that you now know how to make an informed mattress purchase. Take this slow, try not to stress out about it (I know it’s hard not to), and just replace the mattresses in your home one by one.

Were you aware of the toxic chemicals in mattresses? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. Dina O'Neil says

    Thanks soooo much for this post!! We are in the market for a new mattress and I have been looking at some of the organic, natural options out there but they are so expensive – thank you for sharing the info on Plush Beds, they are actually reasonable! This has been a concern for a while but we usually end up buying a conventional mattress because we can’t justify spending $5,0000 or more for an organic option – Plush Beds changes that! :)

    • says

      Oh great! I have been wanting to upgrade to a king size bed because we always have one or two kids wanting to sleep with us and I plan on getting one from Plush Beds. The prices are pretty good for organic and non-toxic! I’ve never slept on a natural latex mattress but I am really happy with the pillows that plush beds sent me, they are soft and spongy and actually give me the neck support I need.

  2. Mary says

    I’ve been needing a bed for a long time, but didn’t want to buy them because of how toxic they are. When I did buy one I sent it back. The smell was so bad I could not breathe! I see no good reason that they have to inundate our mattresses with all these toxic chemicals. As usual, it’s all about money. On the other hand, why are less toxic beds more expensive if they have less chemicals and are made with more natural materials??? Thanks for posting this article. I’m going to look into which kind I might like to buy.

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